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Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion Section No.1

Johnny WANG 2018-10-01 13:07

“For twenty years, Balenciaga was the prophet of nearly every major change in silhouette.”

—Diana Vreeland, former Vogue editor.


Recently, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London held the fashion exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. Generous applause to the legendary Spanish designer is never exaggerated, for his excelling quality of fashion garments, mastering of fabrics and dreamy configuration of colours. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he created some of the era’s most radical new shapes, which challenged ideas of the feminine form. His creation is inspired from multiple fashion sources, ranging from 19th century dress pieces to Japanese kimonos, further developed itself as a prototype for many successors. During this period, Balenciaga redesigned the female shape by creating evening dresses with a now-iconic balloon hem, long hobble skirt and short puffed up cape. Let’s have a closer look at the mesmerizing exhibition, and start exploring the master designer’s world of fashion.

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Tension of Fabrics

Balenciaga’s sensitivity to shape should never be absent from commentary on his design. Among his designs, the best known is the aforementioned balloon hem, which would become his  most iconic invention. The most famous piece is a silk taffeta evening dress in 1955. His incredibly gorgeous hem design infuses the evening dress with an amazing elegant touch with the aid of super-light taffeta. Balenciaga borrowed ideas from the 19th century fashion trends – the application of large strips of fabric are compiled upon a set of ties that appear to create harem pants inside for comfort and structure. The special design brilliantly crafts an airy and agile visual image of the wearer. Meanwhile, the bridle sewn above the knee strengthens the effect further.

Following the iconic balloon hem, the “semi-fitted” wool dress in 1957 joined as one of Balenciaga’s most avant-garde designs. The front-fitting and back-loosening shape received negative criticism at first. Legendary Harper’s Bazaar magazine editor Carmel Snow echoed the criticism, asking “why should a woman look like a house?” However, the woolen fabric does a great job in structuring the shape with its thickness. The ingenious design gradually won favour from the public, eventually became one of Balenciaga’s most popular designs. It also appeared in many new designers’ works, whether haute couture or ordinary evening dresses. Like the Irish-born Rory Parnell-Mooney 2016 FW men’s collection, which is inspired by this.

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Special Techniques

Balenciaga is a master in controlling the shapes, both through the play of the texture and the aid of special shapes.

Among Balenciaga’s classic designs, an envelope dress designed in Paris, 1967, is a definite highlight. The body part is tailored with a single piece of fabric and sewn at the back, leaving both sides clean and clear without seamS. To present neat lines at the cloak section, the neck part is a complicated structure. The sculptural effect of the entire garment is unquestionably the embodiment of Balenciaga’s mastery of fabrics. Through the history of his designs, this particular work is a perfect example proving his preference for simplistic and abstract elements in his later period of career. Despite the unmistakable modernity of the dress, its design echoes the cloak shape of ancient Spanish missionaries.

Balenciaga was also a master in dealing with optical features of different fabrics. The “baby doll” cocktail dress was released in Paris, 1958. Opaque fabrics are apt to enshroud the figure of a woman, and thus Balenciaga expanded his imagination of this motif. In this piece, he desired for a looming effect by contrasting transparent Chantilly lace loosely onto the zipped corset. This spectacular design exerted deep influence on the industry. For instance, Molly Goddard, whose tulle party dress appears as a modern “legacy” of Balenciaga’s doll dress.

Meticulous processing and bold imagination prove Balenciaga’s incredible sensitivity to shapes. This, probably, transpired to be the compass in his search for inspiration.

【Layouts HU Fangfang】


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